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LOFTY PRAISE

Fleury thinks Tkachuk's game perfectly suited for what will be intense series with Ducks

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Each telltale rub. Every errant shove.

All those blessed scrums. The abrasiveness. Caustic yet cunning.

Count Theo Fleury a fan.

"Matthew Tkachuk," he's saying admiringly, "is a fun player to watch. We're in the entertainment business. He entertains.

"Every time he's on the ice, something happens. Good or bad, but never indifferent.

"You can't help but watch him. He's always involved.

"Do I see some of myself in him? No question. He knows how far to push things.

"All I know is not too many 19-year-olds come into the league and have an immediate impact. But he has.

"Smart, smart kid."

In short: he has a game built for immediate playoff impact?

"Absolutely.

"He played in London in that great (OHL) system, learned the right way. He's a winner. Those guys don't come along very often - Guys that know how to win.

"Playoffs are all about rising to the occasion. He understands that and how to do it.

"Once you have that blueprint for success, it never leaves you."

Calgary partisans can't wait to see what tricks Tkachuk has up his sleeve for post-season.

"Theo's right,'' says Flames' assistant GM Craig Conroy. "In the playoffs, you watch him. He has that mindset - the bigger stage, the brighter the lights, the more he wants to excel.

"Last year (at the Memorial Cup) he had the bad ankle and he still scores the winner. Okay, it wasn't the NHL. But it's still a hard trophy to win."

While admitting he can't wait to get this party started, Tkachuk understands the further step up in class this presents.

"I don't think you can compare that (Memorial Cup) to this,'' the kid argues. "This is so, so different.

"It's the NHL playoffs. 

"It's unbelievable how much talk there is around the city, where I've been. People are just so proud of us, so excited for us.

"You can feel the energy of the guys in here. We want to do so well in playoffs. It'd do nothing but great things for us as players, as a team and as a city.

"I think the whole team's looking forward to it. We're playing a team that we just played a couple times and beat us a couple times so we want a little revenge here.

"Get a little payback, hopefully."

In this town, of course, besides being one the most mesmerizing playoff performers ever, Fleury remains the acknowledged, heretofore-peerless master of anarchy aligned with art.

In Tkachuk, stylistically at any rate, he sees a kindred spirit.

"You've got to get your room on the ice,'' reminds this franchise's second highest all-time point prouder. "Different players do it in different ways. If that means upsetting people sometimes …

"There's no question he's going to have a long, successful career in the league. He'll get lots points, lots of penalty minutes and tick a lot of people off. Later, as you get older and have built up a reputation, maybe you don't have to do that as much so you can spend more time on the offensive side of the game.

"And he has skill. Lots of it."

"But you need that room. To do it, you need to get in people's faces."

In IMAX, mouth-guard dangling wildly.

A grainy, grindy, gritty series such as this promises to be right up Tkachuk's alley.

 "What impresses me most,'' says Fleury, "is his all-around game, at his age.

"Defence was the hardest thing I had to learn when I turned pro. In junior, you've got the puck on your stick the whole game so you don't have to play defence. Then you reach the NHL level and it's almost like having to learn a foreign language.

"He's done a great job in that area."

Another of those suitably impressed is Hall of Fame right-winger Lanny McDonald.

"I see his old man's influence in that kid as much as anything,'' reckons the iconic No. 9. "Keith played tough, he didn't take any (crap) out there and when he had to answer the bell, he did.

"The kid does the same. He's got grit, he's got skill, he's got toughness.

"Couldn't be prouder of him.

A combination that'll certainly be counted on as the Flames embark for Anaheim.

"It's do-or-die now,'' says Tkachuk. "Every game is so crucial. Not looking past the first series but home-ice isn't something we're going to have in the playoffs. Our mindset on the road this year has been: Play simple, play smart.

"Kinda limit your mistakes and live to fight another day.

"At this point, because you don't know how many chances you're gonna get so you throw everything you have out there every night."

 

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